The Matchmaker Joseph Anthony

As screen adaptations of the Thornton Wilder play go, I prefer the Streisand musical Hello, Dolly; I never thought I'd prefer Hello, Dolly to anything, but life is full of ugly surprises. This 1958 version features squeaky-voiced Shirley Booth as the eponymous Dolly Levi, who's angling to marry the miserly quarter-millionaire Mr. Vandergelder (Paul Ford); as he's arranged to marry a much younger milliner named Irene Molloy (Shirley MacLaine), this could prove problematic. But our matchmaker is an unstoppable force of etc., and so she seizes upon Vandergelder's put upon clerk Cornelius Hackl (a pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins) as a means of driving a wedge between the businessman and his would-be paramour. All very well and good, as long as you've got a sense of comic timing and perhaps some attractive period design, but the director is a nonentity named Joseph Anthony, who directs with all the panache of an episode of Leave it to Beaver. Anthony's method is to strand his actors in master shots and let them fend for themselves, making it seem less like a movie than a chamber recital in a vast but tacky cathedral — he's so hands-off that the dialogue just hangs in space, looking puny next to the vast visual wasteland surrounding it. The variable performances can't save it: Booth starts off well but becomes increasingly annoying, Ford turns in one of those phoney-blustery jobs that makes you hate the actor and not the character, and the best that the appealing Perkins and MacLaine can do is make you wish they were in a better movie. Only the most devoted Wilder completist will want a copy of this, and even then it'll just sit on their shelf to be glowered at with contempt. Give it a pass. (Paramount)